O's Erbe looking better after change in delivery

McDonogh graduate says it was 'long process'

March 02, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

SARASOTA, Fla. — - Day after day after the 2007 season, Brandon Erbe arrived at Twin Lakes Park, got dressed and headed out to the bullpen to meet Orioles minor league pitching instructor Dave Schmidt.

For more than a month, they worked under the Florida sun, doing the same drills and retracing the same movements. Erbe never threw a single pitch.

"We had three or four drills that we'd do over and over, just dry work. It's not exactly fun. It's rather mundane, just boring stuff over and over again," Schmidt said. "He had some fairly significant changes to make with his delivery. That was going to hold him back from being a major league pitcher."

Erbe, a 22-year-old right-hander who attended McDonogh in Owings Mills, has been one of the bright spots so far in Orioles spring training. After impressing team officials in bullpen sessions, Erbe got his first game action of the spring by pitching one inning in Monday's intrasquad game. Erbe allowed an unearned run, but manager Dave Trembley singled him out as one of the positives of the afternoon.

Erbe knows that it wouldn't have been possible had he not completely changed his delivery, which prevented him from being consistent and put him at risk of injury.

"It's been a long process," said Erbe, who is ranked the Orioles' seventh-best prospect by Baseball America. "I had really struggled a lot during the 2007 season, and I couldn't really pinpoint it on anything that I was doing as far as my pitches. I came down here in instructional league, and that's when the transformation initially started.

"Basically I jumped [in my delivery], both feet came off the ground when I delivered the ball to home plate. I was violent, things flying everywhere. It was just a max-effort, max-torque kind of delivery. I didn't really realize I had done it in high school, but you have more people watching you in pro ball, and that's when I kind of found out."

With Schmidt's help, Erbe eliminated the hop from his delivery, but Erbe conceded that he would revert to it during games. That finally started to change last season.

"It took two or three years before I got comfortable with it and actually right now is probably the first time where I'm not even really thinking about it," said Erbe, who went 5-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 14 starts for Double-A Bowie in 2009. "I can just pitch now."

Schmidt said that the turning point for Erbe came about four weeks after they started their daily sessions following the 2007 season. The pitcher, who dominated metro area hitters while starring at McDonogh, was coming off a season for Single-A Frederick in which he went 6-8 with a 6.26 ERA and allowed 127 hits and 62 walks in 119 1/3 innings. Erbe, who also was dealing with a shoulder injury, said he no longer was getting away with mistakes that he got away with in high school and the lower levels of the minor leagues.

"The thought was to unlearn and relearn the physical movement" in his delivery, Schmidt said. "It takes at least 21 days of everyday work to change that. His big day came maybe the fourth week into it, I asked him to try to do his delivery the old way and he couldn't. That showed him that he had locked in a different way for his body to work to throw a pitch."

Armed with a new delivery, Erbe is no longer a pitcher whose fastball reaches the mid- to upper 90s. He pitches anywhere from 90 to 93 mph, but he has improved his slider and changeup, Schmidt said.

"He basically was a guy with a good arm who threw hard, but he wasn't really able to make pitches because the things in his delivery were holding him back from doing that," Schmidt said. Now, "he's not just a guy with a good fastball. His velocity might have dropped a little bit, but he has better command of his pitches, and adding two other pitches gives him more weapons to get hitters out."

Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz had never gotten an extended look at Erbe until this month. He heard only that he had a violent windup and a ton of potential. One of Kranitz's best friends in the game is first-year Houston Astros manager Brad Mills, who saw Erbe while watching his son, Beau, a prospect for the Cleveland Indians.

"He said, 'You really got a kid down there. I really like this kid Erbe,' " Kranitz said. "I've heard things like that before about him, and I don't take that lightly. Here's a guy that's been in the big leagues a long time."

Some scouts project Erbe more as a closer than a starter, but Schmidt disagrees, at least for now. "I think you have to look at a guy with that kind of arm and three pitches as a starter," he said. "I don't think he's proven that he can't be a starter."

Erbe will likely begin the season at Double-A Bowie, the hometown boy getting closer and closer to his dream of pitching in the big leagues minutes away from the Reisterstown home he grew up in.

"My parents talk about it," Erbe said. "For me, it's still a little bit down the road. I realize it is close, but there's still a lot of stuff I have to do. That's the attitude I have."

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